Comparing the Epic of Gilgamesh, Hesiod's Theogony, and Ovid's Metamorphoses

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Comparing the Epic of Gilgamesh, Hesiod's Theogony, and Ovid's Metamorphoses

   There are many parallels between the Epic of Gilgamesh, Hesiod's Theogony, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. The first similarity is immediately apparent: structure. We can view the structure of the Gilgamesh story as three concentric circles: a story within a story within a story. In the outer circle, a narrator prepares the audience for the primary narrative, contained within the second circle: the tale of Gilgamesh's adventures. Within this second circle a third narrative, the flood story, is told to Gilgamesh by Utanapishtim. Ovid's Metamorphoses is told in a similar way: Ovid starts out by telling of his intention and invoking the gods' help to tell the story. He then tells many tales as the primary narrative, and within the primary narrative exists other narratives, such as "Venus tells Adonis the story of Atalanta" in Book 10. Even Hesiod's Theogony is similar to some extent. He has a bit of a prologue in which he explains how the Muses have inspired him to write of the creation, and then he enters the primary creation narrative.

This method of storytelling does a variety of things. First, it prepares the reader to accept the story. In Gilgamesh, the narrator tells us that Gilgamesh has set down his adventures in his own hand. This leads the reader to accept the story as an authoritative one, especially considering it has come from a mortal, like us, who is part god. Because Gilgamesh is part god, we realize that if he can accept his lot in life, his mortality, then we mere mortals should be able to do the same. In Theogony, Hesiod prepares his audience to accept the story by telling (ad nauseum) that the Muses have worked through him to create...

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...M.E.L. Early Mesopotamia and Iran. McGraw-Hill: New York, 1965.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. Rolfe Humphries. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1983.

Rosenberg, Donna. "Gilgamesh." World Mythology: An Anthology of the Great Myths and Epics. 3rd ed. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC Publishing Group, 1999. 26-57.

Swisher, Clarice. The Ancient Near East. Lucent Books: San Diego, 1995.

Works Consulted

The "Epic of Gilgamesh": An Outline. Online. 15 Feb. 2000.

Sumerian Mythology FAQ. Online. 15 Feb. 2000.

Gardner, John and John Maier. Gilgamesh: Translated from the Sin-leqi-unninni version. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Harris, Stephen L. “Gilgamesh.” The Humanist Tradition in World Literature. Ed. Stephen Harris. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co., 1970.

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